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 (Manna 72: Love—the Bond of Perfection)
Running in the Race of Faith
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Running in the Race of Faith

Based on a sermon by Simon Chin—Singapore

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.

(1 Cor 9:24–26)

In this passage Paul compares a believer’s life of faith to a race. In any secular competition, participants compete hard to win the prize. Unfortunately, be it a simple silver trophy or the much-coveted Olympic gold medal, no prize won in an earthly race lasts forever. In contrast, the race of faith rewards us with an imperishable crown. This crown will be given to us when we enter the kingdom of heaven. As such, this race will be the most important race of our lives. It is literally a matter of eternal life and death.

Unlike the competitive races of the world, the race of faith is not a winner-takes-all competition. The imperishable and glorious crown of righteousness is given to all who run and complete this race. We must therefore ensure that we have the right strategies to finish the race. What are these?

THE STARTING POINT

In 1 Corinthians 9:26, Paul said that merely running is not sufficient to win the race. To be officially part of any race, we must start from the designated starting point. If we just aimlessly run for five hours, we are like a man beating the air—a lot of energy is expended, but we achieve nothing.

Where then is the starting point in this race of faith?
We start the race when we believe in God and faithfully enter into Christ through baptism. We leave our old selves and become a new creation (2 Cor 5:15–17; Rom 6:4–5). How does this happen? Through the correct sacrament of baptism, which is conducted according to biblical teachings, the power of Jesus’ blood enables the forgiveness of our sins. As we enter the water to be baptized into the name of Jesus Christ, we must have faith. During baptism, we die with Christ. Hence, we need to be united in the likeness of His death. Jesus hung on the cross for six hours from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. He then bowed His head and gave up His Spirit when He died. Therefore, when we are baptized into Him, we must also bow our heads as we are immersed in living water.

Having been united with Him in the likeness of His death, we are then united in the likeness of His resurrection. After baptism, we are no longer sinners. We are able to walk in the newness of life, and we can overcome Satan and death. Having resurrected with Christ, we are no longer spiritually dead. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “whoever … believes in Me shall never die” (Jn 11:26).

It is from this point that we start to run the race. Whatever we have done before baptism in our life of faith is comparable to warming up before the race. Only when we are at the starting point are we officially competing in the race, with a real chance to win the prize.

RUN ACCORDING TO THE RULES

If anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Tim 2:5)

Many of us have started to run the race. In order to complete it, we must run according to the rules. We cannot merely run as we wish. The rules demand that athletes run the whole distance. An athlete who participates in a 400 meter race but runs only 200 meters cannot claim to have completed the race. Moreover, runners have to stay within their assigned lanes. One who runs the full distance and is the first to cross the finishing line but has not stayed within the assigned lane will still not win the prize. In fact, anyone veering even the barest centimeter to the next lane is immediately and automatically disqualified.

Since we are in a race for eternal life, there is an even greater impetus for us to run according to the rules. In other words, when we believe in Jesus, we must believe in His teachings. We must also believe in what the apostles received from the Lord and imparted to the believers. These are the rules. We have to ensure that what we believe is consistent with these rules.

 I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me. I cling to Your testimonies; O Lord, do not put me to shame!I will run the course of Your commandments, for You shall enlarge my heart. (Ps 119:30–32)

According to the Psalmist, once we know the word of God, we must lay God’s judgments before us, cling to His testimonies, and run the course of His commandments.

Today, some of us who have begun the race may not know the rules or may not know them well enough. The danger for such runners is that they are led in the wrong direction and end up not completing the race. What a pity indeed if the cause of their loss is a lack of deep knowledge of the rules! In addition, runners cannot make up their own rules or their own interpretation of the rules as they go along.

LOOK UP TO JESUS

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

(Heb 12:1–2)

Runners and swimmers know that a good start is key to giving them a competitive edge. However, a good start may be wasted if an athlete gets distracted by things around him. Thus, a third key strategy of winning a race is focus. In our life of faith, our focus is Jesus; we must always to look unto Him. This is done in several ways.

For one thing, as Jesus is our Lord, we must look up to Him. In other words, we must not allow pride in our great running ability to trip us up. No matter how much or how long we have served God or how much the cheering crowds exalt us, we must never forget to look up to Him (cf. Acts 10:26).

Besides setting the right focus, we must not lose focus. According to Hebrews 12:1–2, the witnesses who surround us are those heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11—Abraham who trusted God, Noah who obeyed God, Enoch who walked with God, Sarah who received God’s promise with faith, and Moses who gave up his life in the palace to serve God. We have to emulate them in laying aside every weight and sin that easily ensnares us. Turn away from distractions that hinder us from finishing the race and may lead us to destruction. We must overcome temptations, trials, the evil work of Satan, and even false prophets, and complete the race.

Undoubtedly, in our human frailty, we may feel exhausted and be tempted to give up. During such moments, we must turn our eyes to Jesus so that we do not lose heart. Looking to Him strengthens our hope and enables us to run the race of faith with endurance. This is not an easy race: we must run fast, run with endurance, and run to win the prize.

In this life of faith, our race may be very long, or perhaps very short, depending on when we leave this world. Some are baptized and return to heaven the following week. For most of us, our races are likely to span many years. We must then be very careful—many things will ensnare us and cause us to break the rules, preventing us from completing the race. Let us not allow complacency to set in. It is only when we reach the finishing line of our life that we can declare that we have completed this race.

DO NOT FALL SHORT OF GOD’S GRACE

Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled; lest there be any fornicator or profane person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.

(Heb 12:15–17)

In Hebrews 12, besides urging spiritual athletes to stay focused, the author also warns us against falling short of God’s grace. This happens when the root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble. In other words, we fall short of God’s grace when we allow something to prevent us from competing according to the rules.

The author compares the sin of Esau to that of a fornicator. He was the firstborn of Isaac. By right, he should have received the birthright. However, as a man of the flesh, he sold his birthright to his brother for a bowl of food.

This is a very real and present danger we face. Many have fallen prey to immorality, covetousness, or even faithlessness. They cannot fully obey God, which is tantamount to breaking the rules. Hence, they are unable to finish the race.

Many Christians think that once they are saved, they are forever saved. There are True Jesus Church members who also assume that once they have believed in the truth, they are forever saved. Yet the Bible tells us that if we still commit sin after having been sanctified, we have no share in the kingdom of God.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

(1 Cor 6:9–11)

The Corinthians were pagans before their conversion to Christianity. Their lives were full of sin. Paul exhorted them to cease all these unrighteous deeds, since they had been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of God, and since they were running the race of faith. Otherwise, they would not be able to inherit the kingdom of God. We too have to be very careful of the works of the flesh.

Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. (1 Cor 9:26–27)

This verse summarizes the spiritual cultivation of Apostle Paul. He knew that the lust of the flesh could prevent him from completing the race. Therefore, he relied on the Holy Spirit to put to death the desires of the flesh. He also had the word of God in his heart to sanctify him and allow him to complete the race. Today, we too must submit to the Holy Spirit and the truth. We need the love of God to motivate us to walk according to His commandments. We need to live a life of holiness and godliness in order to complete the race.

FORGET WHAT LIES BEHIND

Lastly, when we run this race, we need to forget what lies behind and look forward to what lies ahead. If we always look back in a race, we may run out of the track and get disqualified.

Who looks back in a race? Those who are very self-confident and think they have already won the race. They enjoy looking back to see who is behind them. In reality, if we really wish to win, we need to stay focused and look ahead. We need to know where the finishing line is—only when we have crossed the finishing line, can we claim victory.

Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

(Phil 3:12–14)

This was the attitude of Paul. When he wrote the epistle to the Philippians, he was serving his first imprisonment. Although he had gone on three missionary journeys, established many churches, baptized many people, performed many miracles, and saved many souls, he still strove to forget what was behind to focus on what was before him. Paul knew he had not yet reached the end. He still had to press on towards the finishing line. Paul ran the race right up to the finishing line, which we also have to do.

After Paul was released for a short period, he continued to accomplish what the Lord wanted him to do. Later, during his second imprisonment, Paul knew that death was imminent. When he wrote to Timothy, he could confidently tell him that he had fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith, and that the crown of righteousness awaited him. Paul knew this was what the Lord wanted him to do as an apostle of the Gentiles, and he strove towards this goal until the very end.

By God’s grace, many of us have believed in the Lord for a long time. His mercy keeps us in the grace of His salvation. Some have done more by bringing many others to church, offering large amounts of money for God, or quietly ministering to fellow members. They have done all these things out of their love for Christ. However, as long as we are alive and the grace of God is with us, we have not finished the race. We must run until the day Jesus receives us back into heaven. We must know where the finishing line is, and we must never look back to count what we have done for God in the past. If we rest on the laurels of our past achievements, we may stop running the race and hinder our own spiritual growth. We may forget that we are still weak in the flesh and that we have yet to complete the race.

RELY ON JESUS, ENDURE TO THE END

When we believe in Jesus Christ, we join the race of faith. Our goal is to receive this imperishable crown. Hence, we must know where our starting point is and what the rules are. All the “warm-ups” we do before the race, no matter how much effort we put in, only help us to run the race well—they do not guarantee that we can win the prize.

In Paul’s last letter, he stated: “I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim 2:10). This was Paul’s race, which Christ had given him so that he could win the crown of righteousness. Finally, Paul reminds the elect that “this is a faithful saying: For if we died with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we endure, we shall also reign with Him. If we deny Him, He also will deny us. If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself” (2 Tim 2:11–13).

The elect are those whom the Lord has chosen for salvation. Only when we die with Christ, will we be ready to live with Him. Only when we endure, can we reign with Him. God’s virtues and attributes will never change—even when we deny Him and are faithless, He remains faithful.

When we trust in God, we can complete this race. May we all rely on Christ and on the cleansing power of His blood so that we will abide in God’s grace until the very end and receive the imperishable crown.

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Author: Simon Chin
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